All Women Are Bad

She made a mess of him. It was obvious to all who knew him. But who really knew him?

The guns were laid out on the bed. There were around seven of them. Rifles. Cheap. He stole them from work. He was in the backyard shooting one.

Brian is not his real name, but that's what I'll call him here. Brian would talk between shots. Say a few words. Fire. A few more words. Another sharp crack. He was firing into a paper target. He wouldn't say it, but I know he was picturing it as her face, every bullet doing its best to wipe it from his psyche.

Brian was a loner. Holding that rifle he reminded me of a Lee Harvey Oswald type, but without the pathos. He was a man out of time. Not really caring what people thought of him. He had connections. He knew how to acquire things. When we went to New York, he got us into some indoor black market run by shady Vietnamese. "You want food? Weapons? Fireworks?" the man asked. He was missing fingers. Brian only shook his head and we were in.

Brian didn't hate Melinda, also not her real name. Not in the way you hate a fellow male. He hated her in the way a man hates a woman he loves. He hates what she can do to him. He hates how she can make him feel. He hates feeling weak, and he hates that she does that to him.

Another shot. The paper target is held to its anchor by three corners of the paper now. One corner is flapping in the slight breeze. It is Fall. The leaves are changing, and all I can think about is how there is a shitload of stolen weapons on his bed.

Crack. The sound echoes off the trees. He doesn't want to talk about her. In a little over a year, she would be all he could talk about.

I ran into him two years after the shooting. He was with his mother, who was as ever blissfully ignorant of what was going on around her. He told me that she messed him up. Made him rethink everything she was. To prove he was messed up, he held his hand up in front of my face. He couldn't stop it from shaking. "I'm a different man now," he said. "She fucked me up, Doug."

So she did.

Melinda was a free spirit who was attracted to danger. More mature than most girls her age. She had an air of Other World about her. She seemed foreign, sometimes crass. She always talked as if she knew something you didn't. She was pretty. No doubt there. She believed that sex was magic and magic was sex, and years later -- after the shooting -- she became a stripper. Not because she needed the money. She did it for the power. No doubt she was good at it, too. No doubt she was powerful. She sure put a spell on Brian.

Their relationship was rocky, to say the least. There was equal parts love and hate. When I saw one of them, they were always without the other. She started to fear for her live, and he started to claim that she was destroying his.

He didn't trust her anymore. "She's playing mind games with me, Doug. I don't know which way is up." His actions were scaring her. The stolen weapons were just one more thing. He didn't see it that way, though. He had always been this way. He hadn't changed. She, of course, had.

I slowly shifted my time around so I was spending more time with her. She wasn't as scary. Brian was sometimes incomprehensible. He was going off on tangents. He didn't like anyone or anything but her.

Melinda was as stable as someone like herself could be. She knew it wasn't going well, though. He scared her ... bad. He was prone to violence, though he hadn't hit her. She could sense it was coming, though. It was only a matter of time.

His accusations were all over the place. She was screwing every guy she came into contact with if you were to believe him. Including me. I wasn't sleeping with her, but it was close. Intimate is a good word. When he pulled a knife on me and told me he'd kill me if he found out I was fucking her, he meant it. Another knife was pulled. Not by me, but by a friend. It quickly turned into a fight, and while nobody was stabbed, it ended with all of us laughing it off and attempting to toss a girl's car off a cliff. I believe we stopped because we feared she'd only stick around longer.

Had he known about those late nights, the discussions, the touches ... I'd have that blade three inches deep in my throat. I was as sure of that as I was as sure that those guns on his bed were not a good thing.

Everybody in our circle knew he was on edge. Knew he was a threat to her safety and our's. It was so bad that I used the common knowledge of his anger to pull a prank to make her house look like he murdered her there. The cops ended up being called. They were not happy. Later, that house would be the scene of the shooting.

Brian was the perfect example of what can happen when the wrong woman gets under your skin. He was the epitome of "turned around." There is a part of me that remains convinced she knew exactly what she was doing to him and enjoyed doing it. She manipulated me. She enjoyed that. I couldn't say I minded, either.

When he came to her house that night, he was furious. He got me on the phone. Told me he knew what was going on. Told me she told him. Told me if I was there when he got there, he was going to kill me. I had been on my way out anyway, but I got out of there faster. I remembered those guns on that bed. I remember the way those bullets tore that paper target apart. I remember the echo the bullets made as they ripped through the air. I remembered his face when he pulled that knife. I remember thinking he was never stable to begin with, but now he sounded absolutely apeshit.

By all accounts, he came up the steps after her, and she barricaded herself in her room. He did not like that. He tried to break down the door. She panicked.

I don't know where she got the gun. I don't think it was one of his, but I remember hearing that he may have given it to her as some kind of token of his affection. Funny thing, too, 'cause that's what she used to put a bullet in him.

In the movies, the bullet would have grazed a lung or something. We already know he lived. I made that apparent. It would have been a life changing wound. He would be near death and somehow come to his senses when he stabilized. It wasn't the movies, though. It was real life and things are never that neat. In fact, the real world is made up of ugly, beastly people making ugly, beastly mistakes and getting away with them.

The bullet just clipped his foot, but it was enough for both of them. They saw how out of hand the situation had become, and everything changed. This woman, who was playing a game with a man, who, like all men, was emotionally stunted when it came to female, got scared and got smart. She stopped playing the game and she got out. Brian was not so lucky.

Once a woman gets under that skin, it's hard to get her out. You start replaying every moment of your history. You wonder where things went wrong. You think about what you could have done differently. You never see that maybe, just maybe, you were played. That is worse than thinking you were just ignorant. When you're ignorant you can claim you're in love. It works. The problem is, that woman can leave you, but the memories linger on.

And that shit can tear you apart.

When I ran into him years later, I hadn't talked to him in any way shape or form in some time. I didn't ask mutual friends about him. I didn't care. As far as I was concerned, he still had issues with me, and I wanted no part of that.

He was in the passenger seat of his mother's car. His hand was shaking. When he shot those stolen guns his hands were calm, smooth, tamed. Now he looked like he had nerve damage. He was talking about how she "fucked him up."

"I'm better now," he said, showing me his hand again. "It's all right."

The Cramps sang that "all women are bad." The song paints them as devils. But they are devils you desire. You know this going in, and yet you still pursue them. You can try as hard as you want, too, but if they want to get under that flesh, they will do it. They know the buttons to push. They know how to bend you, break you, take you. And we let them because that bending, breaking and taking is so damn delightful.

I watched the car pull away. He wasn't all right. His mother was driving him around. His hands were shaking. She was gone, but she still had her hooks in him. She didn't have to say anything, see him or even write a letter. Her existence was enough.

I eventually got back into my car and drove home. I thought back to that final phone call, the last discussion I had with him up until I saw him in the IGA parking lot just a half hour ago. I thought of how he sounded then and how he sounded now ... and I noticed my hands were shaking just a bit.

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